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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

World Philosophy Day 2019: Revisiting What It Means to Be an HR Philosopher

“Philosophy’s main task is to respond to the soul’s cry; to make sense of and thereby free ourselves from the hold of our griefs and fears.” – Sharon Lebell


Happy World Philosophy Day 2019!! What a wonderful day to remember our inner thinker!

In a past blog post, “What Is an HR Philosopher?” I describe what I believe a philosopher to be.

Philosophy is meant for everyone – more specifically, Epictetus’ philosophy [Epictetus is a Stoic philosopher] is meant for everyone. It’s meant to be a practical tool for everyday people to use as a guide for a happy life. Note: “Happy” in a stoic context isn’t to be interpreted as “pleasure” – that’s a modern translation. In a stoic context, a happy life is a “flourishing” life – happiness is acting virtuously in all situations.

I study Stoicism, and personally, I find much practical utility in Stoicism. It’s a philosophy of ancient wisdom for real world situations. This is a constant theme in Stoic teaching – that philosophy is an understandable and approachable way to live life. It isn’t an abstract ritual conducted by stuffy professors in some Ivory Tower.

I subscribe to the Daily Stoic, which sends a daily email with thought provoking wisdom based on many of those real world situations.

In a recent posting from the Daily Stoic, “There’s Nothing Special About Philosophers,” the newsletter discusses how philosophers aren’t particularly extraordinary. Philosophers are regular everyday folks.

Philosophers aren’t different from us or better than us. They are us. The best philosophers are regular people with a passion for self-improvement, with a love for their fellow human beings struggling in the real world. There might be Harvard professors who fit that bill, but too many of them don’t. It’s critical that you ignore them and don’t let them lead you astray (or intimidate you). Philosophy isn’t about books and big words and theories and complicated metaphysics. It’s about getting better, in a real practical sense. It’s about realizing your potential—intellectually, morally, spiritually.

One doesn’t have to subscribe to Stoicism as a philosophy to understand this as a powerful concept. Philosophers aren’t special. They’re everyday people (to turn a phrase from Steve Browne).

This is a powerful thought because YOU can always engage in the one thing that separates us from the rest of nature – our ability to use reason and to think on a higher plane. Applying this approach to our everyday life is liberating. It means, we always have the ability to think about and choose our direction. We can choose to ignore things we can’t control. We can choose our mindset. We can choose our response.

That last line caught my attention from an HR standpoint, and brings me back to what I think an HR Philosopher is. “[Being a philosopher] about realizing your potential—intellectually, morally, spiritually.”

As I wrote before:

Doing HR right is an act of philosophy to me. It is always important to create space to think, put things into perspective, and act on what is right. And that’s something that will take an entire lifetime (or career, in a work context) to master!

Or put another way, being a philosopher is simply being a rational person and applying that process in our everyday life for the betterment of ourselves, our family, our community, our employer, and the entire world around us!

To realize one’s potential intellectually as an HR professional, one must continue learning! There is no such thing as enough knowledge, and therefore, we must be life-long learners! HR is an ever changing profession. We need to keep up with the times, or get left behind. So join a local HR group, whether SHRM or otherwise. Get your HR certification. Become a Six Sigma Black Belt. Become an expert in Traction or DiSC or whatever! Just keep learning! I also think to realize our intellectual potential that we need to be curious. It means asking the right questions, or questions others won’t ask. If we don’t our potential remains unfulfilled.

To realize one’s potential morally as an HR professional, one must do the right thing. Always, do the right thing. That may sound too vague and too gray. However, I believe in people’s heart of hearts, they know what the right thing is. Knowing what the right thing is isn’t necessarily the problem. I think sometimes a worse problem is knowing what the right thing is, but not having the courage to do it. To realize our potential as a morally sound profession, we need to call out bigotry, harassment, bullying, nepotism, and hatred when we see it. If we don’t, we lose credibility, as well as a piece of ourselves. And we lose any potential we want to create.

Which brings me to my next point. To realize one’s potential spiritually as an HR professional, one must protect our inner citadel. HR is a taxing profession. Yes, there are stresses in many professions! This isn’t a competition. However, HR can be isolating. It can be lonely. HR can get dumped on day in and day out. It can slowly waste you away on the inside. To keep the spirit healthy, we need to keep the mind and body healthy. So, take days off! Call a friend and talk things through. Go for a bike ride, paint, draw, read, write, laugh! Do whatever it is that cleanses your spirit. Otherwise, your potential cannot be reached!

Intellectually. Morally. Spiritually. It’s more complex than that. However, to be a philosopher may not be a special thing. Anyone can be one so long as they’re willing to apply their reason in a logical and life giving manner. Being an HR philosopher is doing this in pursuit of a flourishing career. However, every person who attends to that can become very special. It just takes some effort and a little bit of thought.

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

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